2016 Season Preview: Potential Ohio State Sleepers

By D.J. Byrnes on August 19, 2016 at 11:35 am
Ohio State 2016 Season Previews: K.J. Hill — One of many sleepers.
K.J. Hill

Picking sleepers among a roster of Urban Meyer recruits is almost self-fulfilling prophecy. Thanks to five years of elite recruiting, one can look past the two-deep and still find blue-chip talent.

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There aren't many programs in America where a five-star freshman would be considered a sleeper. That is the level of talent Meyer stockpiled.

Ohio State enters the 2016 season largely unproven, but it returns stalwarts on both sides of the ball. Some unproven players, however, already locked down starting positions. Left tackle Jamarco Jones, for example, earned the job in April.

The search for sleepers takes us to the depths below Happy Jamarco. Though not everyone on this list will cement a Hall of Fame bid this season, they all could somewhere down the road. 



Dre'Mont Jones could be next up in the mold of Adolphus Washington. Washington came to Columbus as a five-star defensive end in 2012. After Joey Bosa supplanted him in 2013, Washington beefed up and moved inside. The results culminated with the Buffalo Bills picking him in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

Jones, originally a 2015 four-star defensive end from Cleveland St. Ignatius, tore his ACL as a senior in a high school basketball tournament. It scuttled his freshman campaign.

Jones added 14 pounds between then and now, and could become the same formidable mix of size and speed that made Washington so tough to block along the interior.

Backing up Tracy Sprinkle in fall camp, Jones will be expected to add fresh legs and key depth as defensive line coach Larry Johnson looks to lengthen his rotation compared to years past. 


Every year, Meyer and his staff strike gold with a three-star athlete. Whether Pat Elflein in 2012, Darron Lee in 2013, Malik Hooker in 2014, or Damon Arnette in 2015, Meyer has proven he can identify and develop talent.

Two candidates emerge in the 2016 class: Jahsen Wint from Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn and Rodjay Burns from Trinity High School in Louisville.

While both should be good for the Buckeyes, and Wint hails from the same school as Curtis Samuel, Burns lost his black stripe Wednesday night, while Wint still carries his.

Burns will start out on special teams, which means only good things for freshmen in Meyer's program.

Malik Hooker, spring game 2016
Malik Hooker returns one of his two spring game interceptions to the house.


Both Ohio State's 2015 safeties could play in the NFL this fall. Vonn Bell will assuredly, and Tyvis Powell is clawing his way to a 53-man roster spot out in Seattle.

Enter Malik Hooker, the least-heralded prospect of the four men competing to replace Bell and Powell. He has unofficially held down a starting job with Damon Webb since spring practice.

Listed at 6-2, 205 pounds, Hooker offers more size than Bell and more fluidity than Powell. If he combines Bell's ball skills with Powell's tenaciousness, he could eclipse Bell in the same way Darron Lee did to Ryan Shazier in 2014. Bell said last season Hooker lead the team in practice interceptions.

Plus, Hooker could do this before strength coach Mickey Marotti got ahold of him:


DaVon Hamilton, a 2015 three-start defensive tackle from Pickerington Central who originally committed to Kentucky, enrolled at Ohio State last June as the lowest rated non-special teams player in his class.

A little over a year later, Hamilton is vying for rotational duties behind junior Michael Hill. 

Up 15 pounds in that span, Hamilton made fellow defensive tackle Robert Landers (6-1, 290) look small when the duo checked into fall camp. Previously, both J.T. Barrett and Pat Elflein raved at Big Ten Media Days about Hamilton's development. 

While Hamilton may not stuff the staff sheet, playing at a high level would go a long way to helping the defensive line fill the void left by Joey Bosa, who was the focus of offensive game plans last year.


Few players better showcase Meyer's national recruiting approach than Jonathon Cooper, which is ironic considering Cooper played 12 miles from the Horseshoe. 

In most classes, Cooper, a consensus high four-star DE, would be the crown jewel of his class. In 2016, he wasn't even the highest rated defensive end. 

Overshadowed by Joey Bosa's little brother, Nick, the highest rated 2016 signee, Cooper still enrolled early to address concerns about his strength and frame. Eight months under Marotti is enough to change any man's body, let alone one as dedicated to his craft as Cooper.

The Buckeyes are stacked at end, but Cooper could still find early work as a pass-rush specialist, especially if Bosa is moved inside as well. He could easily finish his freshman campaign with a handful of sacks, with some of them coming at crucial moments.



Dwayne — or "Ross" as he's known in the QB room — Haskins enrolled at Ohio State this summer as 2016's consensus No. 5 pro-style QB. Since his arrival, he has sat behind Joe "John" Burrow and served as Ohio State's No. 3 QB.

Meyer's No. 2 quarterback must always be vigilant, and so must No. 3. Given the meat-grinder through which Meyer puts his signal-callers, it's not hard to envision two field promotions putting Haskins at the helm of Ohio State's offense. Maybe it comes in the fourth quarter against Rutgers. Maybe it comes before the Big Ten Championship.

In February, Meyer called Haskins the most advanced passer, he'd seen at that age. If Haskins proves adept with his legs (and his high school tape suggests he's more than capable), Haskins could beat Burrow for the No. 2 spot before the season concludes.


Meyer cobbled together three national championships by finding ways to get his best athletes the ball. While talk tempered of filling "the Percy Harvin position" after Dontre Wilson arrived on campus, perhaps no recruit in Meyer's Ohio State career is as apt for the position as McCall.

McCall will face an uphill struggle for playing time as he didn't early enroll. Still, the 5-10 dynamo is capable of receiving as well as running the ball from the backfield. He's also competing with Wilson and Curtis Samuel on punt and kick return duties.

Injuries have struck both Wilson and Samuel in their careers, and McCall would be the man waiting in the depths to fill that void. Plus, he received his first pair of contact lenses earlier this week, which means McCall ascended to blue-chip status with bad eyesight. 

Thankfully for Buckeye fans, that barrier no longer stands in his way.

Johnnie Dixon, finally healthy
Urban Meyer said Johnnie Dixon had a "great" offseason.


From hyped South Florida signee to a sleeper list is what can happen to a man when knee arthritis robs him of his first two years in the program.

Finally healthy, DIxon only has one reception to his name and is at least behind Noah Brown, Corey Smith, Austin Mack, and Parris Campbel on the depth chart. Still, Dixon has flashed in camp—and more importantly, stayed off the injury report.

Dixon may not be the A-1 receiver this year, but he could prove to be a mismatch in slot duty. He has solid hands, is capable of making a defender miss, and still maintains enough straight line speed to beat a slumbering cornerback or lumbering linebacker.


Ever year, Ohio State's offensive brain trust predicts more action for its tight end. And every year, Buckeye tight ends register pedestrian numbers.

But 2016 could be different. Ed Warinner, Ohio State's Co-Offensive Coordinator, now works as their positional coach. The tight ends must prove their worth, however, and Hausmann could be the one to do it.

Listed at 6-4, 245 pounds, the former Archbishop Moeller man would give Barrett another burly target in the center of the field. He has already shown the pass-catching ability in camp that made him such a prized recruit.

Marcus Baugh will enter the season at No. 1, but Baugh isn't renowned for a yeomen's work ethic and has spent time in Meyer's doghouse. His backup, A.J. Alexander, is a former three-star prospect without a reception. Should either of them falter, Hausmann would be tapped as the most game-ready freshman of the three 2016 signees.

NO. 14 — K.J. HILL — WR

Lost in the shuffle of Torrance Gibson's transition to wide receiver is K.J. Hill, the 2015 four-star signee Meyer flipped from Bret Bielema's Arkansas on National Signing Day.

Ironically, Hill came much closer to playing last year than Gibson. Despite that, Gibson remains the more hyped of the pair as he's seemingly a house-hold name before even playing a snap.

Backing Gibson for a breakout isn't a fool's play. Hill isn't as electrifying an athlete as Gibson, but he is more experienced and capable of playing inside and out. That could prove to be the deciding factor in which redshirt freshman of the pair breaks through this year.

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